I took it as a bit of a sign that last week Newcastle were still offering tickets to this match for general sale, and decided to make an investment in seeing yesterday’s 12:45 kick-off. This was rather different from my last trip to Newcastle on a whim with unbeaten league leaders Chelsea paying a visit to the North East.
The first half largely involved Chelsea dominating possession and keeping the home fans quiet, with the Magpies attempting to park at least a reasonable-sized van if not a bus. However as the half went on, Newcastle did carve a few openings, the best of those falling to Jack Colback, who forced a good block from Thibaut Courtois, the Belgian relying on his enormous frame to keep out the ginger midfielder.
Half time arrived with the home fans not overly impressed, though glad of their clean sheet. Some opprobrium was particularly reserved for Sammy Ameobi, who reminded me a bit of me playing football in the way he drifted about and didn’t pick up any markers. Daryl Janmaat, as in August, looked like Newcastle’s classiest player.
An interesting side-story came at the start of the second half when Newcastle third choice keeper and Premier League debutant Jak Alnwick replaced Rob Elliott. The 21-year-old (whose Wikipedia profile had been tampered with during the game with the claim that, among other things, he had built Alnwick Castle) was confident from the very beginning of his stewardship between the posts, as he had to be for the first 10 minutes of the second 45 minutes. Chelsea battered the home goal endlessly without finding the opener.
Which made it all the more surprising when the Toon found it. A great break through the middle from Moussa Sissoko found Sammy Ameobi. The younger Ameobi’s first, and most, decisive touch of the game was a left footed cross which Gary Cahill missed, and substitute Papiss Demba Cisse was there to finish.
Chelsea then controlled the game for another 20 minutes. Their best opportunity came in the 77th minute, when Eden Hazard hit Alnwick’s left upright. From there, the ball broke into midfield, where an excellent tackle from Jack Colback and a great advantage after a foul on Ayoze Perez set Colback free through the middle. His pass out left found Sissoko, who squared for Cisse just as Courtois was coming out for the ball. All Cisse had to do was turn the ball into the net. 2-0 to Newcastle and suddenly St James Park had acquired some atmosphere.
United’s fans were made to perspire a little in the last 15 minutes (once 6 minutes of stoppage time had been added), with a red card for Steven Taylor. His first yellow had been a silly headlock tackle on Willian; his second was one of those fouls that you “take for the team” on Andre Schürrle. From the resulting floaty Fabregas free kick into the box, Dider Drogba headed in for 2-1. Despite further relentless pressure on the Newcastle goal for the remaining normal time and the gargantuan stoppage time, the home side held out for a fantastic victory, ending Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season.
Newcastle United 2-1 Chelsea (Cisse x 2; Drogba)